Josh Harding is just another hockey player. He was a second round pick by the Minnesota Wild in 2002, bounced back and forth between the team and its AHL affiliate, bouncing back and forth a few times before settling in as the team’s backup goalie.
Slowly building up a resume, he tore his ACL in 2010 and missed the entire season. His return in 2011-12 was successful, leading to a long-term commitment to him by the Wild in the form of a 3-year $5.7 million contract.
Coming off a season where he finally won more than he lost, with a 2.62 GAA, Harding looked to build on that season after the NHL lockout, perhaps getting a chance to be the starter if the incumbent, Niklas Backstrom, got traded mid-season.
Last November, his unspectacular story would change forever.
Harding would reveal to his team and the media that two months prior, he was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.
According to the Mayo Clinic, MS is a “Potentially debilitating disease in which your body’s immune system eats away at the protective sheath that covers your nerves.” It is treatable, but incurable. The symptoms of the disease can be as bad losing the ability to walk or speak, but also leads to balance problems, fatigue, and blurred vision.
Those are life-affecting changes for a normal human working a normal job. For a goalie, those are symptoms that affect every single action of his profession.
When Harding started recognizing a problem, becoming dizzy and seeing big black dots while working out, he went for testing. After the determination of MS, he was able to start a strong treatment regiment. One thing was for sure, he was not giving up his hockey career.
“I don’t look at this like I’ve got to take a new path. This is a little bump in the road. I’ve had lots in life.”
Instead of running away from his disease, Harding has instead chosen to do good with it. “Even if it changes one person’s life to show that I’m not letting this come between me and my goals, that would be awesome,” he told StarTribune writer, Michael Russo, in November.
He has already become an inspiration to others.
Harding drew the start for the Wild’s second game of the season, against the Dallas Stars. Facing 24 shots, he stopped them all en route to his 7th career shutout.
“It’s just the first step. I’m going to enjoy it tonight and then tomorrow I’ll come back to work.”
He does not know what tomorrow will bring. According to team doctor, Dan Peterson, there is a 30% chance of a second episode within a year; 20% take two to five years.
Harding leaves one more thought: “You can let it get you down for a bit, but you’ve got to move past it. I know what my overall goal is to be, and that’s a No. 1 goalie of the Minnesota Wild and to win a Stanley Cup here. It would make me happy to overcome this. Not just overcome this, but to really succeed with it.” [Russo]